Crazy for Coconuts: Ford and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company Research Using Coconut Fibers in Vehicles
Consumers have been going crazy over Scotts® Turf Builder® EZ Seed® and Miracle-Gro® Expand ‘n Gro™ Concentrated Planting Mix, which contain natural coconut coir, or husks, that hold 50 percent more water than basic potting soil and release it as plants need it – helping homeowners save water.
And now, as a result of a partnership between ScottsMiracle-Gro and Ford, these very same consumers – and the environment - could end up benefiting from of the process that produces these popular ScottsMiracle-Gro products as they drive to work, carpool or take their kids to soccer practice.
Ford and Scotts Miracle-Gro recently announced a partnership to research the use of coconut fiber reinforcement for molded plastic parts in automobiles to reduce the use of petroleum and make the parts lighter and more natural-looking.
For Mustapha Abbaoui, a senior research principal at ScottsMiracle-Gro, Ford was a logical place to look for a sustainable use for leftover coir. With his background in plastics engineering, Abbaoui said he was certain the coir dust could be used either as a reinforcing agent – to increase performance – or a filler material – to lower the cost – for certain plastic automotive parts.
“I already had established a relationship with Ford, so it seemed only natural for me to reach out to their team about the possibility of using coir dust,” Abbaoui said. “I was delighted when they positively reacted to my proposal. It just fits right into the sustainability programs of both of our companies.”
“This is a win-win situation. We’re taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles,” said Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for Plastics Research at Ford, noting that the material could be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates in vehicle interiors; it could also potentially be used on underbody and exterior trim. “We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy.” (Watch a short video featuring Ford’s Ellen Lee.)
“ScottsMiracle-Gro uses more than 70 million pounds of coir a year in our consumer products,” said Dave Swihart, ScottsMiracle-Gro senior vice president of Global Supply Chain. “Teaming up with Ford to find a high-value use for our leftover coir material is very exciting for us. We already recycle over 5 billion pounds of organic waste annually, and this partnership is another example of a great, sustainable use of a waste stream.”
Once the coconut coir comes to Ford, researchers combine it with plastic to deliver additional reinforcement to the part while eliminating the need for some petroleum. Along with making use of a renewable resource, the new part would be lighter in weight. The natural long fibers also are visible in the plastic and offer a more natural look than typical materials.
In the interior, the material could be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates. It could also potentially be used on underbody and exterior trim.
Ford is currently testing the material’s properties to ensure it passes all of the company’s durability tests, and there’s hope that even more sustainable uses of this natural by-product will one day be identified.